The Itch You Just Can’t Scratch: Answers to your Burning Questions About Pet Dermatology

A dog scratching its earPets with skin trouble are among some of our most frequent flyers here at Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital. Itchy, red, scaly, stinky, bald; we see it all. Because pet dermatology problems are so common, questions about them are also common. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about your pet’s skin and what happens when it goes awry.

Skin Problems

Skin is the largest organ of the body, and so it is only natural that it has its fair share of trouble.

The skin is made up of the outer epidermis, dermis, and the underlying subcutis. The epidermis is the most frequently affected portion of the skin when it comes to pet dermatology, containing hair follicles and the sebaceous oil glands. The skin functions as a very important part of your pet’s immune system and provides protection from the elements, helps maintain body temperature and hydration, and stores several important nutrients.

Pet dermatology problems often result in the disruption of one or more of these functions and typically fall in one of these major categories:

Allergic – Perhaps the most common cause of pet skin issues, allergies to everything from flea saliva to food to environmental allergens are possible causes of dermatitis (inflammation of the skin). Some pets actually have a defect in the formation of the skin’s immune functions, resulting in sensitivities to many allergens. This is known as atopy.

Endocrine – Abnormalities in hormone production and function can have many effects on the skin. Pets with thyroid problems, Cushing’s syndrome, or other endocrine problems often have skin issues.

Nutritional – You are what you eat. Nutritional deficiencies or digestive problems resulting in malabsorption of certain nutrients can manifest in the skin.

Autoimmune – The immune system is our friend, but an overreaction of the immune system causes the body to fight itself. Several autoimmune conditions can cause skin lesions in our pets.

Infectious – Bacterial or yeast imbalances can lead to skin problems in pets and may happen secondary to other dermatologic disasters. Problems with actual infectious organisms like fungal infections or parasites (think mites and fleas) can also result in trouble.

Many of these causes of skin problems can appear quite similar. It is important for us to perform diagnostic tests on your pet in order to determine what the cause is. Once we better understand the cause of our patient’s issues, we are better equipped to help.

When You Need a Pet Dermatology Expert

Some pet dermatology issues are manageable at home. A nice bath in hypoallergenic shampoo or a dose of an antihistamine (ask us if this is appropriate for your pet before administering) might just do the trick. Many times, though, it is better for everyone if you give us a call. So when do you know that you need to bring your pet in to see us?

We recommend bringing your pet in if:

  • Itching and/or chewing is interfering with your pet’s daily functioning
  • There are open sores or bleeding
  • Your pet seems to be getting worse quickly
  • There is any limping, swelling, or obvious infection
  • The problem isn’t clearing up after 24-48 hours
  • Your pet has other symptoms, such as depression, decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • The problem is recurrent

When in doubt, it is probably best for us to check it out.

Hope for Pets with Issues

Pet dermatology issues can be no fun, but there is hope! While there often is no one-size-fits-all answer, we are often able to manage skin problems. Some conditions like atopy are not curable, but we can keep most pets comfortable. Other problems like a mite infestation (mange) are typically able to be treated and cured. Once we make a diagnosis for your pet’s woes, we will create a treatment plan based on the individual situation. Treatments for pet skin problems often include several of the following:

  • Routine parasite control
  • Nutraceuticals like omega-3 fatty acid supplementation
  • Food trials using a prescription diet
  • Antibiotics and/or antifungals as appropriate
  • Topical treatments such as sprays, creams, and/or shampoos
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids (typically short term)
  • Immunosuppressive medications
  • Allergy vaccines (formulated after allergy testing)

We see pets every day that are experiencing skin trouble, and are equipped to find a way to get your pet comfortable and happy again. Don’t let your furry friend suffer through this common issue. There is help to be found!